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North Shore Half Marathon

June 28, 2012

I ran the North Shore Half Marathon on June 10th, 2012. No, it wasn’t on the North Shore of Oahu, the famed surfing spot, but on the shore of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago. I was going to be back in Illinois, visiting my family, and noticed this race would coincide with my visit, so I thought it would be a fun traveling activity.

Spoiler alert! It ended up being my worst race yet.

Two weeks prior to the North Shore half marathon I raced the Hibiscus half marathon. This race was the culmination of a good training cycle with weekly speed workouts and tempo runs which resulted in a good time (1:46) that felt pretty comfortable. After the race ended I felt like I could have given it more, so I set my sights on the North Shore half marathon to beat 1:45.

In the week leading up to the race I began getting e-mails from the group that organized the race that warned of extreme weather on the day of the race. Temperatures were expected to be in the 80’s with high humidity when the race started at 7:30 a.m., and naturally temps and humidity would continue to rise as the minutes ticked by. They suggested the runners to drop their expectations, this day would not be the day for a PR.

I totally discounted these warnings, thinking, “No problem, I train in Hawaii where I always run in the 80’s and there is always a good amount of humidity. If anything, I will have a leg up on all of these poor Midwestern folk that are just coming out of winter.”

While I read these warning e-mails I was in lovely Boulder, Colorado, running in altitude, hiking, and drinking craft beers like it was my job. Carbo loading anyone?

I flew from Boulder to Chicago on Saturday, the day before the race, and it was 90 degrees. Stepping outside of the airport I started to lament the past week’s lack of sleep and excess of beer, but I was still optimistic. I hydrated, ate good foods, and went to bed early with building dread.

I got up Sunday at 5:30, the time that all of my races start in Hawaii (to beat the heat), at some toast with p.b. and banana, drank some coffee, and hit the road. When the race started at 7:30 it was in the 80’s with 77% humidity, definitely not ideal conditions.

I was in the second corral with lots of fit looking folks, but counted it as a positive so that I could get a faster start than the Hibiscus Half Marathon. The gun went off and everyone took off so fast I didn’t even have the time to think about what I was doing, I just went along with them. My first mile was 8:00 min/mi, waaaaay too fast. I immediately felt my body panicking as it tried to figure out what the hell I was doing. Everyone around me was chugging along at an 8:00 minute pace, so I just kept up with them, although it did not feel at all comfortable doing so. Around mile 5 I realized I would not be able to keep this up for the whole race.

The first part of the race was along shady streets that ran parallel with Lake Michigan. I couldn’t feel much of the lake’s famed breezes at all, just the blazing heat of the day. I began willing myself to the next water station, and began walking through them. My whole body was drenched, my legs ached, and my will power was taking a nosedive. My paces increased to 8:30 min/mi, and I basically threw out the idea of going below 1:45 (which I should have done before the race even started). We came out of the lovely shaded roads into the cruel blazing sunlight. It was now around 9:00 a.m. and it was HOT. My pace increased again to 9:00 min/mi+. I relished each cup of water, gatorade, and sponge I could get. All of the runners around me were in agony, and the general feeling was that we wanted the race to be over with. One guy informed me that in the year prior, the temperature on race day was 10 degrees cooler. That would have been nice.

The mantra that got me to the end of the race was, “Just keep going, you don’t have to run fast, but just keep moving.” That and all of the crowd support, which was excellent. There were so many people out cheering, waving cowbells, and spraying water. There were even people set up on their front yards with huge fans spraying water out. The crowd really helped to motivate me to keep going. And then their were the people collapsed in front of ambulances…. yeah that wasn’t too motivating.

I ended up finishing the race in 1:55. I was actually surprised that I came in under 2 hours with my serendipitous walks through the water stations. I guess a little walking during a race won’t murder your time.

I saw my friend, Pam, who I played soccer with for many years as a kid and adolescent. She ran track at Loyola University and was actually an elite runner in this race (so cool!). Her day wasn’t the greatest either, she took a nasty spill down a steep hill, and ended up coming in 6th or 7th out of the ladies, which is still really impressive.

So this was my slowest race yet, but I learned some valuable lessons:

  • Don’t go out too fast, you should not run your first mile at your goal race pace. If you do, your body will panic and not like you. You need to ease into your goal pace and trick your body into liking it.
  • You don’t have to run at the same speed as the people around you, run your own race.
  • Heed weather warnings, even if you think you are an all-star from Hawaii, Illinois can be hotter and more humid than Hawaii is.
  • Enjoy beer in strict moderation the week before a race, or don’t try to get a PR after enjoying extra brews leading into it.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night the week before a race.
  • And most important, have fun! Not every race will or should be a PR!
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